Mt. Lebanon rifle team future unclear

Published Apr 17, 2014 at 2:39 pm (Updated Apr 17, 2014 at 2:39 pm)

Mt. Lebanon’s high school rifle team is safe for the time being, though it remains unclear whether the team will retain its own space in the district’s renovated high school or will have to travel elsewhere to practice. The team has spent the last two years in limbo as the school board debates a costly renovation of the existing rifle range.

The board decided to get updated cost estimates for a renovation at its April 15 meeting.

The district currently faces three options: spend $400,000-$500,000 to renovate the existing rifle range to code, spend more than $20,000 for transportation and fees to have the team practice elsewhere, or end the rifle program all together.

Thirty-three students currently participate in the program, and 25 of those students are in ninth or tenth grade. Students who spoke at the meeting drew attention to the program’s lengthy, 80-year history, its co-ed nature and nonprofit efforts, such as Shoot Out Cancer events. Students also spoke about how the team appealed to many students who weren’t interested in other sports.

Rifle coach Dave Willard added, “I know you’re in cost-cutting mode. Consider 1934 when this program started. It was the middle of the Great Depression, a climate similar in many ways to the one we’re in now. That school board had the foresight to start and maintain this program. There’s no way it couldn’t continue for another 80 years.”

The board originally included the rifle range as an alternate item when it bid its high school renovation project in December 2011. At the time, the total cost estimate was $410,900. The bulk of this cost, some $310,000, would be for HVAC work. Other significant costs include making the rifle range ADA compliant and abating lead within the space.

No board member spoke in favor of eliminating the program. However, consensus has yet to emerge on whether to move forward with a renovation.

“I have no problem with the team,” board member Dan Remely said. “I want to keep the team. My concern is strictly the cost. I don’t think these specs are extremely really state-of-the-art. There’s a lot of code compliance. When we looked at this more recently, I think the estimate was half a million dollars.”

William Cooper voiced the opposite opinion. “A cost of $25,000 per year for going elsewhere will not stay $25,000 per year,” he said. “It will be a good investment to build a range now that will be around for another 80 years.”

Addressing the rifle team, school board president Elaine Cappucci said, “I apologize to put you through this year after year. We have not done this with other teams. The reason is that other spaces, like the wrestling room and tennis courts, are used by other community groups as well.

“I know it is not easy to go year after year without knowing you will have a team or a space,” she concluded.

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